Magellan Science

Advancement of Science and Technology in Schools


Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

Magellan Science, Robotics and FIRST LEGO League

What is Magellan Science's Goal and Philosophy? We strive to provide scientific, engineering and computer programming activities that are appropriate for a wide range of students with consideration of their individual readiness and abilities. We believe that all students are good, bright, capable and will positively contribute in their own way as adults. As volunteers and parents, it is our responsibility to identify activities that help students develop to their fullest potential and at a pace appropriate for each student. Over the years, parents have been wonderful in helping support these goals. This support is most appreciated and encourages us to bring additional opportunities to students. Last, these activities can only be provided via the support of volunteers.

What is FIRST LEGO League Challenge? FIRST LEGO League Challenge designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. FIRST LEGO League Challenge is a team based challenge that teaches robotic design, construction, engineering, programming and scientific research. Each team builds a single autonomous (self-guided) robot that performs tasks to earn points. Many teams participate in a state level competition during the FIRST LEGO League Challenge season. For more information, visit: FLL

What is FIRST? FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization founded by prolific American inventor Dean Kamen, perhaps most famfor for inventing the Segway. His vision is "To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes." FIRST's mission is "Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership." For more information, visit: FIRST 

Can you tell us more about FIRST LEGO League Challenge Competition? The FLL program is a friendly competitive team based sport that incorporates the concept of gracious professionalism. Individual teams of 4-10 students work together to design, build and program a single autonomous robot that can predefined tasks to earn point on a competition board. The robots have two and a half minutes to perform as many task as possible. Each team can only bring one robot to the competition table with a predefined number of electronic parts and unlimited general LEGO parts. The team members work together to design and build their highest scoring robot. The competition board and theme is provided in August with regional qualifier events starting in October and ending in early December. Teams that qualify at a regional event advance the NC FLL State Championship, usually held in January at the NC A&T University.

In addition to Robot Performance, teams are judged on Robot Design, Core Values and their Project. During Core Values judging, the teams are interviewed by friendly judges who inquire about how their team worked together, solved problems together, how decision were made and how they dealt with different opinion. They are often given a task to perform together so that the judges can observe team dynamics. During the Robot Design judging students must articulate their technical knowledge about their robot strategy, design and computer program. Project judging evaluates the team's solution to that season's themed challenge.

Past challenges include TRASH TREK (reducing waste),  ANIMAL ALLIES (improving human animal interactions), HYDRO DYNAMICS (improving the human water cycle), INTO ORBIT (living and traveling through space), CITY SHAPER (improving our communities), and RePLAY (exploring spaces for play and increasing accessibility). 

The 2021-2022 FLL challenge theme is CARGO CONNECT (exploring how products move from manufacturer to the consumer, note that Amazon is a new sponsor for this FLL season) and the challenge will be released in August 2021.  

Meeting and Tournament Schedule. The challenge theme along with mat, models and building instructions is usually released in August with the challenge rules typically following within a month. Teams begin meeting shortly after the start of school and typically meet from 2:35 to 4:30 a minimum of once a week. More competitive teams also meet twice a week or more. As the tournament approaches, additional meetings on weekend are often scheduled. Team subgroups are often formed to focus on different tasks and research, so teammates often will not attend all meetings. Often, this can help accommodate other after-school activities. North Carolina now has two levels of tournaments as bids must be earned to attend the next level. Roughly, Regional Qualifying tournaments often are held in Raleigh in November and State Tournament is held in Greensboro in January. Tournaments are typically held on Saturday and are an all-day event (7:00am - 6:00pm). Approximately 30-40 teams compete in each tournament. Parents transport their own student to and from the tournament and supervise them during down time at the tournament. We prefer a parent to attend to help chaperon the team as coaches are busy coaching and attending coaches meetings and cannot provide consistent student supervision. If a parent does not attend, we ask you to identify another parent that will provide transportation and supervision.

Tournament Awards. Many 1st and 2nd place awards are given to the teams in areas such as performance, robotic design, best program, against all odds, team spirit, etc. The highest honor is the Champion/Director award which is awarded to teams with the best overall performance in all four categories. The state level Champion Award gives the winning team an invitation to participate in a 3 day international competition held typically in April at the Edwards Arena/Convention Center in St. Louis or one of the U.S. Open competitions. This is a great experience, but typically costs each a family over $1,000 for registration ($100), travel ($500), hotel ($400) and food ($100).

Robotic Training

Does the student need to own a LEGO MINDSTORMS kit? No. We provide everything needed for the training. So, there is no need to bring your personal LEGO MINDSTORMS kit. In fact, by not bringing your personal LEGO MINDSTORMS kit, you insure your expensive LEGO parts are not lost, broken or misplaced. We have purchased thousands of dollars of LEGO MINDSTORMS kits and additional LEGO modules, sensors, motors, parts require to support this program. This allows us to insure each student has a dedicated robot for their use during the class. No sharing one robot among many students.

Is there enough space (opening) to accept everyone? We wish we could always accept every student that is interested. Unfortunately, space may be limited and generally made available on a first come first serve basis, so register early. Receipt of registration payment confirms your student's seat in the class. 

What are the prerequisite to take the class? No robotic or programming experience is required. Students should be computer proficient. They need to be able to and understand how to: use a mouse; use a keyboard; open and close a window; open, save and close a document; enter data into fields; and select from lists. There is a behavioral expectation (see below).

What age is LEGO Robotic class appropriate for? Generally, robotic classes are open to rising 4th through 8th grade students. Students must have a reasonably high level of self-discipline and maturity to function well in the class. The class is designed for rising 4th graders to be successful as long as they have a good level of mechanical, logic and sequencing aptitude. Without these skills, student 9 of age and even 10 year olds will find the class to be challenging and may become frustrated depending on their maturity level. Nine year olds with strong mechanical, logic and sequencing skills do very well. If your student has attended a Magellan Robotic or other activity, we are glad to provide feedback and appropriate recommendations for each student. Parents must recognize that any feedback or recommendations is provided with the best intentions for the student.

Is there an upper age recommendation? Because the typical student in the beginner and intermediate classes are 5th and 6th graders, 8th graders and some 7th graders often prefer not to participate due to the image factor. While this is unfortunate as the material would be challenging for a high school student, we do understand the age issue for most teenagers. Yet, we have many 7th and 8th graders take the course and enjoy the learning, content and the challenge. These students tend to be more strongly science or engineering focused and are more comfortable with their image. If given the information, your teenager will clearly communicate their preference. Please accept their desires as not doing so only makes the student and those around them miserable. In the US students who were 14 on January 1st of the challenge year may participate, without regard to grade level. However the US has lower participation rates past 8th grade than seen in other parts of the world.

What are the behavioral expectation of the student? The student should be able to self-monitor their own behavior, remain on task without adult supervision, not be easily distracted or frustrated, and have good interpersonal and listening skills. If the student has difficulties with any of these behaviors or has other behavioral issues, please contact the instructor/coach prior to participation.

My student takes ADD medication, should they take if for the class? If your student takes any medication during regular school I highly recommend doing the same for this class.  The class is fun, but as you can see from the behavior expectations (above), the class requires high concentration and focus.  Students that do not take their regular school medicine usually struggle in the class and occasionally become behavioral issues.  

Fall FLL Teams

Team Levels

Our ability to offer a team is dependent of parent volunteers. All teams require a primary and a secondary coach who can attend weekly meetings. Competitive teams also require a research coach. Traditionally Magellan has fielded three teams but an increase in parent volunteer coaches has allowed us to support additional teams the last two season. 

Advanced Competition Team

The advanced team competes in all parts of the FLL tournament at the highest levels. They typically qualify for the state tournament and attempt to perform well enough to qualify for tertiary competition. Team members are expected to participate and contribute to all aspect of the FLL Challenge, including the Research Project and Community Outreach. Membership on this team is reserved for our most advanced students and requires a large time commitment by both students and parents. In addition to meeting twice a week, student will have assignment between meetings and additional weekly and weekend meetings as competition dates approach. Parents are required to provide support for the team beyond transporting their student to two weekly practices and weekend meeting. Additional parental support roles include assisting with with field trips and volunteering at both regional and state events. This large time commitment may be too much for many students and parents.

Intermediate/Advanced Competition Teams

Intermediate/Advanced teams compete in all parts of the FLL tournament at high level. They attempt to qualify for the state tournament and are typically highly ranked in all aspects of the FLL tournament. This level of team is recommended for students that are ready to make a significant time and effort commitment to a very competitive team. Participation at this level typically requires one or more previous years of FLL participation and demonstrated advanced abilities in a summer class. This team is often appropriate for advanced students in the 6th grade and higher.

Rookie/Intermediate Team

Rookie/Intermediate teams compete in all parts of the FLL tournament at a level appropriate for a team composed of new FLL members. These teams are recommended for  students who have completed the summer FLL class that are ready to participate on an FLL team. Students must be able to stay fully engaged in mechanical building, computer programming and refining the team's robotic design and program, even if their ideas or designs are not incorporated. This team may be appropriate for students in 4th grade and above.

Participation Costs

Registration for participation on a team or group in the fall program of Magellan Robotics is typically around $300, While the registration fee is higher than many after-school programs, on an hourly basis it is cheaper than most other after-school programs such as art, chess, drama, etc. This fee covers team FLL registration, amortization of equipment costs, repair/replacement of defective/broken equipment, team t-shirt, team pins for tournaments, and snacks.

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